Even though this is just a blog on the internet, let’s preface this with…
I am in no way an emergency professional, or any safety professional. These are things that I have done/will do/used while abroad to keep myself calm and safe. These are only my opinions and experiences. You should always contact the local authorities if you ever feel unsafe in any way.
When it comes to traveling, people often think of sunny skies, sandy beaches, or cafes full of people sipping creamy coffees. They think of hostels and partying in clubs with locals, having a great time. Which is all true and why traveling is so amazing. What usually doesn’t cross people’s minds is the uncomfortable and potentially unsafe situations that you may find yourself in.
Like the type of situation I found myself in in Switzerland one night after exiting a night club. There was an altercation between three friends. This was some soap opera shit going down in the street and no one was batting an eye. Of course, my temper flared, but I kept it on lock, and we followed them from a safe distance across the street to make sure nothing worse happened. Who knows what we would have done if something did, anyways, as we didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t speak the language and didn’t know what they were saying to one another. We also didn’t know the number to call the authorities (this was before google was so handy and before it was easy to Roam like Home) and weren’t sure how we would have even spoken to the authorities. We felt utterly and totally useless.
Feeling unsafe and feeling completely useless in a situation is never a good thing, but it easily pops up in situations. Use this list of handy numbers if you ever happen upon an emergency. Any emergency. Print it out and keep it on you at all times, keep a copy in your phone, make sure you know whom to call in each country you’re in.
Things happen while you’re traveling. You don’t have to be in a war-torn country or in a sketchy neighbourhood for bad things to happen. Crazy shit happens all the time in good neighbourhoods and break-ins are frequent in expensive developments. But, it’s different when you’re away from home. You’re not familiar with the location and aren’t expecting anything to go sideways. But, bad things don’t just stop because you’re on vacation, even though it seems like they should. It’s why whenever the smallest thing goes wrong, it feels like the end of the world. But, it’s not. It’s just called another day. You just happen to be having another day in Zurich. Things happen all the time, even in safe places.
The incident above was in Switzerland. The land of the neutral. The place where we woke up with Toblerone’s on our pillows! Where we saw 5 Hulk Hogans drinking beer on the tram!
But, it happens.
It would happen much the same as it would at home. The only difference is that you speak the language, you are (usually) familiar with the location and you (usually) are with people that you know. Bar fights happen. Altercations happen. I mean, have you been to a CanadInns bar?
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Things happen. Crazy stories are what make up adventures, terrifying or exhausting in the moment, but exciting (or at least just another anecdote) once a few thousand miles and some time has been put between you. But, you shouldn’t let the adventure stories scare you! Terrible things don’t happen every trip you go on and there are tons of things you can do to make yourself feel more safe while abroad.
Like keeping a list of emergency numbers on you at all times. This is also helpful if you end up injuring yourself in some way. Most likely you’ll be around people as you’re touring, but sometimes you get that blissful quiet down a beautiful side street. Delightful for vacation mode, not so much if you end up twisting an ankle.
If you see something sketchy, mentally take down the street names and area and go to a safe spot to alert the authorities. And, honestly, you probably shouldn’t follow them like we did in the above story. I’m assuming it wasn’t the safest option.
Guys, I’m one of those ‘do as I say and not as I do’ kind of people.
Stay out of sketchy neighbourhoods. I know, it’s much easier said than done when you’re exploring a new city. Sometimes, like we did in Brussels, you just end up in a sketchy part of town. Once you realize that you should not be here, act like everything’s fine and turn around, trying not to cause any disturbances or attention to yourself. Do I think that someone’s going to start beating me up in the middle of a street for no reason? No. But, I don’t want to call out that I’m a tourist any more than me being in said neighbourhood is already doing.
Don’t head into, or join, a political rally. I mean, duh, As fun and cool as it might seem to be part of a political rally in a foreign country hoping for change, side step these. If you’ve ever been to Paris, you’ll have noticed they love to protest just about anything in the world. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been to Paris when there WASN’T a protest and I’ve felt safe the whole time. But, just like sketchy neighbourhoods, you can end up in one quite by accident.
Although they may seem peaceful (and may stay that way), protests can get out of hand – quick. That’s why there’s always police presence. Some asshole anarchist will ruin the protest for everyone and cause chaos, injuries, and most definitely arrests. You don’t want to be around that. If you see one, turn around and go another way. Ain’t nobody got time for getting arrested.
If something feels off, trust your gut and just leave. Don’t stay to get that insta-shot or ignore your feelings. Leave. I know, it sounds a little ridiculous, but seriously, listen to your instincts. Once, when I was looking for apartments, I found one that seemed like it would do. Later, I felt very uneasy about it for no reason at all. Unsure of what to do, I eventually decided not to rent it. A couple months later, the damn thing caught on fire. Just trust your gut.
Worried about an animal’s safety while traveling? Click here for my guide to animal treatment abroad
Be aware of your surroundings. It’s easy to get caught up in everything around you, but remember that you’re pretty vulnerable in another country. Look around you and be aware of happenings that are going on. Or the complete wonderfulness that is going on.
Be aware of pickpockets. Who hasn’t heard this little ditty before? Pickpockets are everywhere, even in your home town. You don’t need to be freaking out that you’re going to encounter pickpockets on every corner in a foreign city. They’re not that rampant. If you’re worried there are countless ways to keep your money and passport safe while you travel, but I haven’t used any of them for years. Money belts are not for me (seriously.) and I usually take my normal wallet while traveling. However, I usually switch to a crossbody bag while out and about so it’s closer to my body.
That being said, keep the damn thing zipped. And, keep the zipper enclosures towards your body (I even hold the zipper enclosures while walking at times. I do this at home, as well). The last time I was in Paris, I nearly got pickpocketed. I could see the person next to me out of the corner of my eye going to touch my bag. Instead of saying a word, I watched him closely, then moved my body and bag to talk to my friends. I knew what he was doing, but I didn’t cause a scene; I just took myself (and my purse) out of the situation.
When you’re in busy streets or markets, keep your bag/purse/what-have-you in front of you. Have you seen locals in Brazil or India? Their backpack is in the front, keeping it safe from the masses of people around them.
If you’re heading to an event or market, bring only the essentials and keep them in front of you or in your front pockets. My first soccer game was in Brazil, only moments after I got off the plane. My friend, who is a local, told me to take only what was absolutely needed. That meant a few bucks for some munchies, Chapstick, and my camerea. Because, yes, this was so long ago that I had a camera with me and not a phone.
When we headed to a market that was rife with pickpockets (but had the BEST shoes and jewelry on the cheap), she wouldn’t even let me take a small purse, instead making me keep my money in her bag. I had to ask for money every time I wanted to buy something, feeling like a small child asking for an allowance, but I felt great knowing that the only thing anyone could steal from would be my good ol’ Chapstick. Now, if I ever head into a busy market, my crossbody purse is in front of me and I’m holding onto it, making sure that I don’t hit anyone with the damn thing and that no one will be sneaking into it.
Also know that things just sort of happen while traveling and it’s okay. I always budget for scams, and did so especially when I was in Morocco, and the ‘what-if’ type of things like if I lose my wallet or it gets stolen. Also know that there are countless stories of things that should have gone wrong, but didn’t. Like people getting off of trains and spending the weekend with total strangers or getting lost at 3am in who-knows-where-Edinburgh after one too many Whisky Sours or walking down a dark street after a bottle of champagne. Or, when I got into a stranger’s car in Germany because I was completely lost. It turned out to be the most adorable car ride of my life as I listened to the man’s child chatter to me in her damn-near excellent English, ‘quietly’ asking her Dad the English word for ones she didn’t know.
Traveling is amazing and even if it’s not the best experience at the time, it’s still an experience that you can learn from, no matter your age. Stay safe, kids!